Gaza medics struggling in face of ‘overwhelming disaster’ as vital supplies run low: WHO

© WHO Patient with severe acute malnutrition and dehydration at a field hospital in south Gaza - 24 April 2024

We have distributed an enormous amount of essential medical supplies, but it’s not enough. I mean, this is such an overwhelming disaster, it’s not enough,” said Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Palestine.

Speaking in Geneva on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly, the senior WHO official echoed widespread international condemnation of the Israeli airstrike at a camp for displaced people at Tal as-Sultan northwest of Rafah, that left scores dead on Sunday.

“WHO actually deplores this attack on displaced people. It demonstrates that there is no safe place in Gaza at all,” he told UN News, as video from the field hospital treating victims distributed by the UN aid office, OCHA, showed an injured father weeping while describing the moment his children died.

“When the strike hit, I was thinking of my children,” said Mohammad Al Ghouf. “I promised them to get to the supermarket and do some shopping and to hug them. But, unfortunately, I am here, and they are in a different place.”

From the same OCHA footage taken on Monday, the medical director of the International Medical Corps (IMC) field hospital described the grim task of preparing lifeless victims for burial.

“I saw the dead body of a father who was basically holding his child, perhaps around three years of age. They were burned and charred. We couldn’t separate them. So, we had to put both of them together in a body bag. It was very, very hard.”

Burns care lacking

Some 75 patients received treatment at the IMC field hospital.

“Out of those 75, 25 were very critical,” the IMC official added, fuelling deep concerns that the specialist burns and trauma care and medicines they need are out of reach in Gaza since the Israeli military seized the main aid crossing point at Rafah earlier this month.

“You can only do so much in Gaza. And when it comes to really extensive burns, etcetera, there’s no place currently in Gaza where that can be treated,” Dr. Peeperkorn said. “Since the closing of the Rafah crossing, we only have had three trucks into Rafah. They came through Kerem Shalom and that’s the only supply. We fortunately still have some supplies, but they are quickly running out.”

The perilous lack of lifesaving aid supplies could be reversed if lorries carrying humanitarian aid are allowed back into the enclave in significant numbers, the WHO official insisted.

Aid obstacles remain

“There are 60 WHO trucks standing in El Arish [in Egypt] ready to get into Gaza. So again, this plea: the Rafah crossing needs to be opened not just for medical supplies, but for all other humanitarian supplies,” he said.

We have distributed an enormous amount of essential emergency medical supplies, but it’s not enough. This is such an overwhelming disaster. Now, when there would be a sustained ceasefire and there would be entry routes into Gaza which are properly managed, when there is a deconfliction mechanism which actually facilitates and supports, much more is possible.”

The UN health agency has previously warned that more Gazans will die unless desperately needed medical evacuations for seriously sick or injured people are allowed outside the enclave. Some “10,000-plus” people are believed to require urgent transport outside Gaza for treatment, but since the Rafah closure on 6 May, “there’s no medical evacuation outside Gaza, and it was already a huge problem before”, Dr. Peeperkorn said.

More than one million uprooted

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and OCHA, the intensification of hostilities and issuance of evacuation orders have displaced more than 940,000 people from Rafah in the past three weeks alongside 100,000 who have been displaced in northern Gaza.

“Attacks on Rafah have continued unabated and civilians displaced by hostilities lack shelter, food, water and other supplies and services essential to their survival,” OCHA said in an update on Tuesday.

The same update reported that Gazan health facilities continue to face dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies “while having to cope with a rising influx of casualties due to injuries and burns”. The Nasser Medical Complex also appealed for people to donate blood, OCHA noted.

The humanitarian update echoed longstanding concerns over the lack of aid reaching Gaza and stressed that although the Kerem Shalom crossing “remains open in principle, it is extremely difficult for aid organisations to access from the Gaza side due to hostilities, challenging logistical conditions and complex coordination procedures…access constraints continue to hamper the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid inside Gaza”.

Between 1 May and 26 May, OCHA reported that only 137 humanitarian aid missions were facilitated by the Israeli authorities to areas that require coordination across Gaza; 86 were “impeded after getting a green light or denied access to begin with, and 43 were cancelled by the organisers”.

Healing imperative

Amid the ongoing destruction caused by nearly eight months of war in Gaza that began in response to Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel, the WHO official stressed the need to support the future reconstruction of Gaza’s largely destroyed health system to help the region recover and support a sustainable peace.

“When you start thinking about the healing process and early recovery and reconstruction, we need to think completely different about getting the supplies into Gaza, including, of course, specific medical and medical equipment and supplies,” Dr. Peeperkorn said, underscoring the historic difficulties associated with bringing in standard medical equipment.

“It took us almost two years to get three mobile X-rays. Every referral hospital everywhere around the world has a number of these mobile X-rays; they are in the referrals almost everywhere. So, it absolutely doesn’t make sense and I just want to make this point, we all hope there will be a sustained ceasefire very soon,” he said.

Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, chief of the WHO office for the West Bank and Gaza, interviewed by UN News.

UN News/Anton Uspensky Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, chief of the WHO office for the West Bank and Gaza, interviewed by UN News.
“We have to look also at the future, we have to push for a sustained ceasefire and then…early recovery, a rehabilitation process (should) start as soon as possible. There should be a Palestinian solution,” the WHO official continued, noting that Gaza still has “a lot of very capable health professionals”, many working as volunteers, who “should be the focus and the centre” of the reconstruction and rehabilitation process.
Source:UN News

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